by Chris Sullivan
A Comedian's Wake
Poor old Eddie - you have to feel for him. Like some latter day Charon, he's left standing on a boat, in his words, going "into auto pilot". A stand-up comedian on a North Sea cruise ship ploughing its way through choppy seas from and to Hull - just one vowel away from the other place.
In this way Eddie (Emmerdale and Bergerac veteran Chris Sullivan) starts his act in The 2 Sides of Eddie Ramone. Dressed in the colours of a prelate, red jacket and black silk shirt, he takes the usual place under the spotlight in front of the microphone with a routine minted before television voraciously devoured years of jokes honed on the musical hall and club cricuit and spat them out all in one night.
Both written and directed by Dublin-born Sullivan, Eddie, an Irishman with (his stage surname Ramone presumably taken from the famously divided punk pioneers) used to be something big on the telly, a quiz show host. Part of a perfect family with a wife and talented daughter, convent educated Katie (Shian Denovan) who, with help from her Dad, went straight into a sitcom after drama school.
In her earlier incarnation as a local newspaper journalist, your venerable motorised reviewer used to speed through the listings for forthcoming events and write a par (that's journalese for paragraph, doncha know?! ;)) on each show. Until it came to stand up comedy, when she would have to do a phone interview with a comedian.
Because comedy, we can assure you, is no laughing business. The comedians were invariably deadly serious, often talking about their craft and their influences ... etc etc. And TLT knows all about going into auto pilot.
Nevertheless, the best one was the comedian who'd been filmed often as an audience member clapping and whooping enthusiastically. TLT ended up subbing her own copy after swapping to the subs' (that's journalese for sub editor, doncha know?!) desk and coming up with the immortal headline "Britain's Best Known Unknown".
We've often wondered since then whether Donald Rumsfeld's scriptwriter, while looking through British local newspapers for ideas, as they all obviously do ;), coopted it for his boss's most famous (and in the opinion of some, most shifty) line. Not that scriptwriters are ever known for doing such things ;). Whaddya mean, get back to the point?! ;)
Anyway back to Eddie. The play sprang into life as a one-man show in Santa Monica and then had a moderately successful run at the Edinburgh Festival.
Now developed as a two-hander, it does indeed capture something of the seriousness, not just in the plotting, but the single-mindedness coupled with vulnerability needed for the successful comedian.
The tragic tale of Eddie and his daughter can be taken at face value as a family melodrama. But it also explores the intersection between celebrity, family, sex, the paparazzi and reality TV. Plus the new digital television environment (the sub editor in me did wonder whether this was why the title had "2" in figures instead of the word "Two"), drugs, booze, prostitution and, with an extremely light touch, politics and agents.
The performances are skilful and the drama draws together throughtfully the threads of our modern age. Sullivan shows his chops as a seasoned actor, although occasionally at the beginning, there was a tendency to drop his voice a little too confidentially and inaudibly in filmic style. Denovan is impressive as his daughter Katie, in the garb of a medieval nun, in whom past, present and future meet.
At the same time, the balance between stereotypical dramatic tropes and the all-too common causes of true-life celebrity downfall is a delicate one to maintain. The pacing sometimes sags and we did wonder what the eye of a separate director would bring out in the subtle interlacing of themes where literature becomes intertwined with life.
Still it's a detailed performance from Sullivan with Denovan successfully portraying the younger generation and the uncredited lighting following a trajectory of its own with a hint at one point of early filmmaking.
The play runs until Saturday, July 30 and with a rousing yet elegaic Joycean ending going back to Eddie's music hall roots coming over crystal clear, this was a thought-proving 70 minutes with a pleasing delivery. So it's an amber light from your very own TLT reviewing double-act.